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Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary and/or the Narrative Lectionary

See older posts from 2006 to 2014 on the blog archive site at blogarchive.kairosucc.org

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 AND Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 OR Amos 6:1a, 4-7 AND Psalm 146:1-10, I Timothy 6:6-19, Luke 16:19-31

Donald Trump has come under fire in this election campaign for his repetition of the phrase, “Believe me!” (Donald Trump has come under fire for lots of things but I don’t really intend to get into that political debate today.) “Believe me.” It’s akin to saying, “Just trust me.” In fact, the same Greek word can refer to both believing and trusting, even to having faith.

I’m preaching this Sunday and my topic is “hope.” The sermon title: “Hope and Keep Busy.” When I deal with the same scripture or scriptures on Tuesday morning, then here in a blog entry, and finally on Sunday, I like to bring slightly different perspectives to each. Although there will always be overlap, if you want to get the “hope” focus head on, join us in worship on Sunday.

It struck me that a lot of what I was finding in this week’s texts could also shed light on trusting. I thought about the trio of faith, hope, and love found in I Corinthians 13. Almost every biblical text or story can help us understand

these core features of our religious identity. And why not trust as well? Faith, hope, love, and trust. They all have a lot in common. One could spend hours splitting hairs over the different nuances of meaning, but I generally prefer connections to bad hair days.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 AND Psalm 79:1-9 OR Amos 8:4-7 AND Psalm 113:1-9, I Timothy 2:1-7, Luke 16:1-13

There was a time when “I Feel You” was frequently heard in both public and private discourse. It became a favorite of politicians. “I feel your pain,” or, more often just, “I feel you.” I’m not sure it’s quite as common today. Perhaps it was overused and misused, reducing its significance. I sometimes wonder if there is just less empathy in human relationships today. There are certain politicians (who shall go unnamed) whom I can’t imagine uttering the words, “I feel you.”

I could have used “I feel you” as the title of this week’s blog entry, but I chose “empathy” instead. Having already introduced the word in the first paragraph, I’d better define it. I could flippantly say that when we say, “I feel you,” we are expressing empathy. Empathy, I think, has a bit more depth (maybe a lot more depth) than “I feel you.” Its simplest definition is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” More detail gives us this definition: “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.” It comes from a Greek word which literally means “in pathos.” It is a word associated with “passion,” referring to entering into the suffering another person is going through. “I feel you,” in the deepest sense possible. The search for a definition often takes one down the rabbit hole in pursuit of additional words, like “pathos” and “passion.” Not today.

Let's instead continue for a moment with "I feel you."  The Urban Dictionary definition:  "I understand where you're coming from." 

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 AND Psalm 14:1-7 OR Exodus 32:7-14 AND Psalm 151:1-10, I Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-10

Somebody else want to write these reflections this week? Here’s the deal. When I agreed to take on this task some years ago, I said that it would be based on the lifetime experience and study of one who is now 76 years old and spent years as a pastor and denominational leader (among American Baptists). Although all my life I have considered myself a student who brought his mind (as well as feelings) to matters of faith. I just no longer find fulfillment in chasing down every nuance of scholarship.

Once in a while something catches my attention so that I say, “I need to look into that a little more,” and I do. I always want my words and thoughts to have integrity. While I don’t want to write a weekly scholarly treatise, neither do I want to offer something shallow and half-baked.

This week I stumbled on the word “wrath.” In Exodus 32:9-10, the Lord says to Moses, “”I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them . . .” In Jeremiah, God rants on about his “stupid children,” declaring that “the whole land shall be a desolation.” (Jeremiah 4:22-27) In Psalm 14 God calls them “corrupt.” “They do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good . . . They have all gone astray, they are perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.” (Psalm 14:1 & 3) God appears to be mighty angry.

The wrath of God. It’s something I’ve thought about, even studied, but it’s been a long while. I know that anger didn’t, and doesn’t, jibe very well with my experience of God. So how do I talk to you about it? At breakfast this week, I suggested that we in the progressive church have a number of options. 1. We can find some way to accommodate anger in our understanding of God. 2. We can simply dismiss passages about God’s anger. 3. We can reinterpret those passages. 4. We can consider the impact of all the other traits attributed to God in the Bible.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Jeremiah 18:1-11 AND Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 OR Deuteronomy 30:15-20 AND Psalm 1:1-6, Philemon 1:1-21, Luke 14:25-33

I could write again this week (as I did last week) about choice. In fact, one of the texts I quoted last week comes up as a lectionary reading this week. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Most of this week’s readings directly address or imply choice. The familiar first Psalm contrasts two ways of life---those who “delight in the law of the Lord” and “the wicked.” (Psalm 1:2 & 4) “ . . . the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (vs. 6) The entire collection of the Psalms begins with choice. In Luke, Jesus puts before us the choice of carrying a cross and following him. (Luke 14:27) He compares our choice to a person who, “intending to build a tower,” sits down and estimates the cost.” (vss. 28 & following) In the short epistle to Philemon, Paul confronts his “friend and co-worker” (i.e., Philemon) with the unthinkable possibility of receiving a former slave (Onesimus) as “a beloved brother”---“no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother---especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.” (Philemon 1:1, 16-17)

Having said what I want to say about choice (for now at least) last week, it was the reading from Psalm 139 that caught my attention. It’s a Psalm that has comforted and perhaps challenged many. Too often, perhaps, we approach scripture (over breakfast, in the classroom, in our private reading) with the questions our minds generate rather than simply letting it wash over us, permeate our being, stir our feelings. This Psalm, a prayer, in particular is one we might more often approach mystically. We stumblingly tried that at breakfast this week and most experienced a profound comfort and acceptance in the Psalm.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Jeremiah 2:4-13 AND Psalm 81:1, 10-16 OR Sirach 10:12-18 OR Proverbs 25:6-7 AND Psalm 112:1-10, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, Luke 14:1, 7-14

The Bible, at points, is fairly dramatic about reminding us that we are faced with life-altering choices. One of those occurs when Joshua addresses the people after they have entered “The Promised Land,” when he is facing his own death. “Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness;” he says, “put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15) Moses has earlier put it even more strongly. “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live (Deuteronomy 30:19)

I’ve been reading a rather strange science fiction (or perhaps more appropriately, fantasy) book, American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Neil Gaiman moved to American in 1992---“ . . . America: this strange, huge place that I knew I didn’t understand. But I wanted to understand it. More than that, I wanted to describe it . . . I wanted to write a book that included all the parts of America that obsessed and delighted me, which tended to be the bits that never showed up in the films and television shows.” The book won a number of awards. “Some people complained that the book was not American enough; others that it was too American; . . . that I had failed to understand that the true religion of American was sports . . .” After ten years has passed, he notes that, still, “the Gods are waiting.”

I must make clear that I don’t recommend you all run out and buy this book. It is not what you’re likely to expect and it definitely not for everyone---probably not even for me. The epigraph, however, ties in with what I have to say this week. It is a quote (not fictional) from the late Richard Dorson, an American folklorist, author, professor, and director of the Folklore Institute at Indiana University: “One question that has always intrigued me is what happens to demonic beings when immigrants move from their homelands. Irish-Americans remember their fairies, Norwegian-Americans the nisser, Greek-Americans the vrykolaka, but only in relations to events remembered in the Old Country. When I once asked why such demons are not seen in America, my informants giggled confusedly and said ‘They’re scared to pass the ocean, it’s too far,’ pointing out that Christ and the apostles never came to America.”

Revised Common Lectionary Readings:  Jeremiah 1:4-10 AND Psalm 71:1-6 OR Isaiah 58:9b-14 AND Psalm 103:1-8, Hebrews 12:18-29, Luke 13:10-17

There’ve been a lot of Olympics going on. It’s reached the point of almost too much. Yet I’m always drawn to them, like a bug to a burning bulb (without the same consequences, I hope).

Still, there is something compelling. One might notice the artistic beauty of many of the performances. We can exult in the ideal of athletes representing nations of all varieties of political systems and perspectives coming together in peace. One can notice the friendships that seem to develop. Teammates cheer one another and embrace when they get gold and silver, even though one, in her heart, most surely wishes the gold had been hers. There’s even the rare image of a racer stopping to help a fallen competitor to her feet, or twin sisters crossing the finishing line hand in hand (only to be criticized later by their sponsoring government).

This year I have noticed, among other things, the posturing of some (most notably Usain Bolt) to be sure we all know that they are giving credit to God. Along with some of this week’s lectionary readings, it got me to thinking. Probably the thing that moves me most in so many of the Olympic endeavors is seeing athletes perform to the fullest of their potential, sometimes following a dream which has been with them since childhood.

I’m sorry I have to admit skepticism about the posturing and pointing toward the skies. First of all, that’s not where I locate God. If God is anywhere, God is right there on the track, embodied in the runner. At a deeper level, I have trouble assessing the genuineness of the gesture when it is so dramatically and publically displayed.

The gesture, however, takes me to a deeper truth---one that is present in the reading from Jeremiah.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7 AND Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19 OR Jeremiah 23:23-29 AND Psalm 82:1-8, Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Luke 12:49-46

For the blog and our Tuesday morning breakfast discussions I’m returning to the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. No guarantees how long that will last. We will review again in a couple of months.

Lectionary readings from the Hebrew Scriptures currently are from the prophets.  The prophetic message often comes across as judgmental---perhaps because it is?  Simply put, the message is that God has provided a vision and blessing and opportunity to participate in a just and peaceful society---and you/we have blown it.  Unless you/we repent, the result will bring disaster upon the land.  Some have interpreted the prophetic message as one of inevitable doom, whereas it is much more the message of a grieving parent hoping the children will choose to amend their ways.  It offers the hope of restoration.  In this week's reading from Psalm 80, the cry is, "Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted . . . Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.  Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let you face shine, that we may be saved."  (Psalm 80:14, 18-19)

Last Sunday’s sermon and some of this week’s readings offer two images. Amos, the focus for our guest speaker, Rev. Eugene Ross, former Conference Minister, speaks of a plumb line, a weighted string used by carpenters, before the age of levels, to check the straightness of walls, etc. Amos sees the Lord “standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand.” (Amos 7:7) Israel is the wall which God is measuring and it is out of plumb (not straight). (vss. 8-9)

This week the image is that of a vineyard which hasn’t borne the expected fruit.

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